27.10.2017 07:09 h

Steffen the hero as Columbus advance in MLS playoffs

Goalkeeper Zack Steffen was the hero as Columbus Crew ended Atlanta United's debut Major League Soccer season in a penalty shoot-out on Thursday.

Steffen saved twice as the Crew stunned the 67,221-strong Atlanta crowd into silence to advance to an Eastern Conference semi-final against New York City FC next Tuesday.

Crew's 3-1 win in the shootout came after an entertaining game finished 0-0 after 120 minutes of end-to-end action.

The defeat halted a fairytale first season in MLS for Atlanta, an expansion side who confounded expectations by reaching the playoffs at their first attempt.

But the Crew's victory keeps alive their chances of delivering one last title to supporters before the club possibly relocates to Austin, Texas.

The Crew's owners stunned fans of the franchise -- one of 10 founding MLS members -- after confirming earlier this month they were studying a possible move across country.

The prospect of relocation has added an emotional subplot to the Crew's post-season campaign.

For long periods against Atlanta, Columbus looked the more threatening team, piling on the pressure in extra-time in search of a winner.

Ghana international Harrison Afful hit the bar with a left-footed strike in the 105th minute, shortly after Federico Higuain had spurned a golden opportunity with a free header saved by Brad Guzan.

In the closing minutes, Atlanta defender Michael Parkhust rescued his team with a goal-line clearance from Afful, sending the game to penalties.

Steffen saved both of Atlanta's opening spot-kicks, including a superb diving one-handed stop from Julian Gressel, before Higuain's cheeky "Panenka" gave Columbus the lead.

When Jeff Larentowicz's fourth penalty for Atlanta hit the post, it was left to substitute Adam Jahn to ram home the decisive penalty.

In Thursday's other playoff, Houston Dynamo squeezed past Sporting Kansas City 1-0 thanks to a 94th-minute goal from Alberth Elis.

Houston will now play the top-seeded Portland Timbers in the Western Conference semi-finals.